Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:51 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start by going back over the President's day.
The President, as I noted earlier today, had his usual intelligence and FBI briefings this morning. This afternoon, here shortly, at 2:15 p.m. in the East Room, the President will make remarks at the Celebration of African American Music, History and Culture. And, as they did last year, the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to welcoming some special guests to the White House, and we'll give you a list of those later; and celebrating music that has helped shape our culture and our way of life here in America, as well as across the world.
Later in the afternoon the President will depart for Camp David. And, Ron, if you'll remind me at the end, I'll do the week ahead for next week.
I also want to, before I begin questions, express best wishes to Sonya Ross, with the Associated Press. This is her last day here covering the White House, and we all have enjoyed working with her and wish her the best. (Applause.) Is she going to come out from back? No? Okay.
Well, with that, I am glad to take your questions.
Q: I have a question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen. (Laughter.)
Q: And a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Just one?
Q: When the President has his intelligence briefings, does he meet with FBI Director and CIA Director and the NSA Director together, or are they each separate and one doesn't know what the other one is doing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up. The President has his intelligence and FBI briefings on a daily basis, as you are aware. And if you'll recall, Dr. Rice noted recently that the Presidential daily briefing -- or the PDD, as it's referred to -- includes information about a range of international issues, such as elections overseas, or in Latin America, or the current situation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And so the briefing begins with Director Tenet on a range of those international issues. But when it comes time to discuss counter-terrorism and threats against Americans, as Secretary Card noted yesterday, then Director Mueller and Governor Ridge join the briefing at that point. And to my knowledge, Helen, that has never happened before. And it is one of many initiatives that we have taken since September 11th to make sure that intelligence information is being shared between agencies, that our information gathering is better coordinated. And that's just one of many steps.
Q: My question is, are they all together hearing what is being handed out across the board?
MR. McCLELLAN: When it comes to counter-terrorism and threats against Americans or American interest --
Q: No, why aren't they all in on policy, too?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just went back through that, Helen. If you'll go back to what I just said, I just went through that Dr. Rice noted, a few -- a couple weeks ago, I believe it was, in this room here, that there are a range of international issues that are discussed with the CIA Director. And those include --
Q: But why not with everyone? I mean, the FBI is into everything now. And the NSA --
MR. McCLELLAN: And those issues include elections overseas, elections in Latin America. But when it comes time to talk about counter-terrorism, which of course is our highest priority, then that is when the FBI Director and Governor Ridge participate in the briefing. And so that -- and that is what he have said all --
Q: And the CIA people and everyone else?
MR. McCLELLAN: And Director Tenet, that's correct. And that is what we've said all along.
Q: Did the President know ahead of time about the State Department warning on India and, if so, was he asked to approve it or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back to what I said earlier. The State Department has made the determination, based on the best assessment of the situation on the ground. And government has a responsibility to give the best advice to Americans abroad. And that's what they are doing, trying to give the best advice based on their assessment of the situation on the ground.
Now, the State Department --
Q: So the State Department --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm getting to that. The State Department makes determinations based on consultations with our embassies on the ground, and there are consultations as well with the White House and administration officials at other agencies. And the President was informed of the decision, and he supports the decision.
Q: Just for the tick-tocks, the decision was made already, and he was told about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: And he was informed of the decision, yes, that's correct. Kelly.
Q: What's going on between now and next week, when Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Armitage go to the region? Is President Bush planning on having a conversation with Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously we will update you on any calls the President makes with world leaders, but there are high-level discussions going on, high-level diplomatic efforts that are ongoing -- whether these are phone conversations or meetings. You know, and again, we continue to urge India and Pakistan to take all the steps they can to reduce tensions in the region. Everybody needs to exercise restraint, and India and Pakistan need to take steps to move toward de-escalation in the region.
We are part of an international coalition that is working to ease the tension and looking for both sides to avoid escalation and avoid war. And so those high-level discussions are ongoing, whether they are by phone or whether they are in person, in meetings. And Deputy Secretary Armitage will be leaving for there next week; and then Secretary Rumsfeld, on his trip that was previously planned, overseas, will also be stopping in the region.
Q: But with the situation so tense, and with the new warning about Americans to leave, is there any consideration of moving up the trip, having Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Armitage go there sooner?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, keep in mind, too, that there is a conference that is going on that President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee are supposed to be attending. And you can't meet with someone if they're not in town. So keep that in mind.
But those high-level discussions are ongoing all the time with the current situation over there. And it remains, obviously, a tense situation.
Q: Scott, two questions. First, the travel warning to Americans in India affects 60,000, roughly, U.S. passport holders there. Is the United States government planning to do anything to assist those people in getting out of India, or is this just sending them the message, "get out of town"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there are two things happening there. There is a travel warning and there is an authorized -- voluntary authorized departure -- well, the travel warning is for Americans. And then there is a voluntary authorized departure for non-essential personnel and family members. And, you know, I would refer you to the State Department -- in fact, I think they're briefing at the same time I am -- they will be going through the specific details.
But, I mean, you have plenty of commercial transport available in the area. And this is part of, again, going back to the best advice they can give based on the situation on the ground and exercising their responsibility to make sure that people can leave in an orderly fashion, that they can get their affairs in order and they can leave in an orderly fashion. But you have plenty of commercial transport available right now.
And, beyond that, in terms of government assistance, I'd refer you to the State Department for specific details.
Q: And then the other question centers on, the President has said that war between India and Pakistan is clearly not in either nation's interest. Has the President laid out any consequences for Pakistan or India, should they go to war? And, specifically, what consequences in terms of sanctions or otherwise, would there be if either of those nations used nuclear weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I don't want to get into speculation --
Q: But what's the policy of the government?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but, obviously, as the President has said, any time you have tension between two countries that possess nuclear weapons, it is a serious situation. And that is all the more reason why high-level diplomacy is ongoing with India and Pakistan as we speak and will continue to be.
Q: Isn't one way of getting a hold of that serious situation making clear the consequences, in terms of sanctions and world condemnation --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think everybody in this situation realizes the consequences of potential action. And that's why we're continuing to emphasize that both countries need to exercise restraint, that both countries need to take --
Q: Do we have a plan to separate the forces?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- one minute, Helen -- that both countries need to take steps to move toward de-escalation. And that's why there is an international coalition, as well, that is part of this whole effort and looking for both sides to take steps in the right direction.
Q: Is there any proposal on the table to separate these forces and to deter them from the use of this doomsday weapon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, again, I emphasize -- and as the State Department has been emphasizing this over the last few days, as well as I think it came up at the Pentagon briefing yesterday, there is a lot of high-level diplomacy going on. The situation is sensitive, it is tense. Secretary Powell has noted that, Secretary Rumsfeld has noted that. And I think the best way to address the current situation is through diplomatic channels, not through media channels at this point.
Q: Is a Presidential phone call under consideration, though? I asked you that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Any consideration of the President working the phones to talk to the leaders of India and --
MR. McCLELLAN: If there's any update to give you on that, we will always do that. But I don't have any information for you, to share at this point.
Let me go back to James here.
Q: Thank you. Who is going to be with the President at Camp David this weekend? And what kind of attention will he be paying to the situation in India/Pakistan? How will he allocate time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, wherever the President is, he continues to have his briefings and keep -- be kept up to date on the situation -- different situations across the world, and that includes India -- the situation in India and Pakistan, and the situation in Kashmir.
But I mean, as far as Camp David, I don't have any list of people who will be there for this weekend. But oftentimes he has private -- entertains guests for a private weekend.
Q: Thank you. This is a serious question. It sounds a bit selfish, but at some point will the White House or Homeland Security put out suggestions or regulations for Americans how to deal with the possibility of nuclear fallout, because if there is, God forbid, a war, it's going to hit here, too.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Connie, keep in mind that one of -- a primary mission for Governor Ridge was to develop a national strategy for homeland security to protect Americans. And that process is still ongoing at this point. Obviously, the President's highest priority is winning the war on terrorism, and protecting Americans from future attacks. And the best way we could prevent future attacks and protect Americans is to continue winning the war on terrorism, and to continue, as the President has noted many times, hunting down the terrorists and destroying their network, where they exist.
Q: But if the U.S. put out directives, if nothing else, that would get the world's attention and show this is a serious situation, this is a possibility.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, an advisory on?
Q: On how to protect yourself from fallout. If they launch nuclear weapons at each other, eventually the fallout will come here.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuously keeping Americans apprised of any information that we need to share that relates to homeland security.
Q: Is General Musharraf cooperating? Is he giving -- does the President believe that he is doing what needs to be done to crack down militants? Has he shown any sign of movement on that issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, at this point, and I emphasized it earlier today as well, President Musharraf -- we continue to urge President Musharraf to act on his words, to act on the remarks he gave earlier in the week, and to stop incursions across the line of control in Kashmir. And when those incursions do stop, India needs to reciprocate, as well. So we're going to continue to urge that, that's part of the high-level diplomacy, as well, and we will continue to do that.
I want to go to Ken.
Q: Well, the implication of what you just said is that he has not; is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: I hadn't characterized it. I said right now we are continuing to urge him to act on his words. He needs to act on what he has said. He does need to act on what he has said.
Q: The question was, have we seen any sign that he's doing that? Your response was, we continue to urge President Musharraf to act on --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, he needs to act on his words and do everything he can to stop cross-border incursions, and I would leave it at that.
Q: Am I correct that the implication here is that he has not?
MR. McCLELLAN: He continues -- we continue to urge him that he needs to act on these cross-border incursions. And I would leave it at that, Ken.
Q: And if he had acted, we wouldn't be urging him to do so, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard what I said.
Q: Scott, does India have a right to defend Kashmir?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, any -- and this has been discussed by the State Department, by the White House on numerous occasions -- any resolution to the situation in Kashmir needs to take into consideration the wishes of the people of Kashmir. And that continues to be our position.
And certainly resolution of tensions in Kashmir and tensions between India and Pakistan, requires that there is dialogue between the two countries. And we're trying to help with that as well.
Q: Scott, you described the situation on the subcontinent as "tense." Does the White House have a sense, is it improving, deteriorating? About the same? Stable?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it continues, there continue to be tensions there. It continues to be a serious situation. Again, that is why high-level diplomacy is ongoing, and I don't want to --
Q: No, I'm just asking as to whether you see any change, for better or worse, in the last few days.
MR. McCLELLAN: They continue to need to move in a direction of de-escalation.
Q: On another topic, will the President make any reference to Iraq in his speech tomorrow, in his war update?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to let him address that tomorrow. As I noted earlier, stay tuned for his speech, but he will talk about the new threats of the 21st century; and he will talk about the importance of defending freedom, preserving freedom, and defending peace and extending the peace. And so we'll let his remarks happen tomorrow morning. I don't want to get ahead of the President.
Q: Just to follow up, Senator Daschle spoke out this week against doing anything militarily in Iraq for a while, and Europeans are, of course, skeptical. And now you've got flashpoints in India, Pakistan and the Middle East. Is the President losing any momentum for his bid to really focus on --
MR. McCLELLAN: As you know, this was addressed on his recent European trip most recently, but has been addressed on numerous occasions. There haven't been any decisions made. We continue to urge Iraq to open up to the inspectors and they need to do that. And, as far as any future action, there are consultations that will continue to be had. But there are no decisions that have been made.
Q: Is this still a top priority for the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Is what?
Q: Still a top -- is he still -- is this still a top priority for the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: As he said, any person that would gas his own people is a threat to the world. And, obviously, that remains a high priority, yes.
Q: Last week in Europe, President Putin expressed an interest in bringing President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee together at a summit. Did he invite President Bush to participate or offer some sort of advisory role, through this new U.S.-Russian alliance, in dealing with this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue to participate as part of the international coalition. As to your specific, I can try to find out more information on that. I did not actually travel on that trip, so I will see what I can find out.
Q: According to the Cato Institute study, they're saying that Musharraf will be an unreliable ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism and the U.S. cannot and should not trust him because in the long term he will --
MR. McCLELLAN: Cannot trust who? I'm sorry.
Q: General Musharraf. Because in the long term, the study said, according to Kato, that he would turn against the United States. Now, the other day, General Musharraf said that he cannot do more than what he has done already, as far as terrorism and Kashmir is concerned. Now, what I'm asking is that how much President Bush is pressing him, like he pressed Arafat --
MR. McCLELLAN: How much he is pressing President Musharraf?
Q: Right, like he did Arafat, Israeli and Palestine conflict during that time when he said that this is the most -- place on earth, the Middle East situation. But now, everything is turning into India and Pakistan.
How seriously is --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard the President's words yesterday, in terms of how serious the situation is, in terms of how serious we are about urging President Musharraf to act on what he said he was going to do.
Q: This has been going on for the last three, four, five months -- the Indian parliament was attacked and there was another bombing yesterday in Kashmir. And today was also another bombing. And bombings will not stop until -- unless there is a pressure, kind of pressure that United States had on Chairman Arafat.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I go back to that as why there is such high-level diplomacy going on as we speak, and will continue to --
Q: Even this high-level diplomacy was also going on, because so many high-level leaders were from the U.S. to India and from India to the U.S., and vice versa from Pakistan, U.S. and all that. But it seems to me that it has all failed or it's not working. So you think President Bush now time has come, he should use his own personal influence to go out of his way to solve this problem and not to have the war between the two countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what we are doing right now is doing everything we can to help reduce tensions in the region and help defuse the situation there.
Q: Scott, can I follow that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Keith.
Q: When was the last time that the President talked to either Vajpayee or Musharraf?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can get you that information. I didn't bring a list of his recent world leader, calls to world leaders. I don't --
Q: Has he talked to either of them in the last week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe so. But let me -- I'd have to check on that, and we can do that after.
Q: Why is it, then, that there's obviously been a conscious decision here at the White House not to have the President intervene --
MR. McCLELLAN: And they -- let me point out that those leaders know the President's views very clearly. And they know what needs to be done, and that's what we're continuing to urge them to do.
Q: Right. But in a lot of cases, whether it's on Capitol Hill or throughout the world, the White House decides that the President's personal diplomacy is needed and could help the situation. Why is it that when two nuclear-armed countries may be about to go to war, there's been a decision, clearly, here at the White House, not to have the President get personally involved?
MR. McCLELLAN: The decision is that we're continuing to send high-level people there, have high-level discussions through diplomatic channels. And we're going to continue to do that --
Q: But it doesn't -- to the highest level.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and when there's any additional information to update you on, we will do that at the appropriate time.
Q: Can I follow-up on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You bet. Go ahead.
Q: The decision to send Armitage to the region next week, and then Secretary Rumsfeld as well, does that imply, then, that the two nations, the two leaders or whatever, have given an affirmation that they will not launch a war between each other between now and then?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to characterize things for other countries. They can speak for themselves. Obviously, I go back to what I've said here at this briefing: the situation in Kashmir remains tense, the situation between the two countries; and we've got to continue working through diplomatic channels, working through the international community, to reduce tensions in the area.
Q: But if they were on the brink or whatever, the decision to wait to send --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's your word. I didn't --
Q: Well, okay. We keep hearing "tense" or whatever.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: But the decision to hold off -- not hold off, but to wait until next week, does that give you -- is there an impression that they will not fire at each other between now and then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're assuming -- the way you phrased the question was assuming that there weren't conversations going on now. There are, and there continue to be, and there continue to be other leaders who have been meeting with both countries as well -- phone conversations, meetings. Again, I go back to what I said earlier, that obviously you can't meet with people when they're not in town, so --
Q: But if you thought war was imminent, you wouldn't send him into harm, you wouldn't send Secretary Rumsfeld into harm. You wouldn't send Secretary --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jumping in the middle here. I didn't call on you. Wait your turn. I'm going to Mark, and I'll come back to you.
Q: Back to the --
Q: You let Helen do it. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: We have to instill discipline, otherwise this will get out of control. (Laughter.) Helen has been here a little bit longer than you have. (Laughter.)
Q: West Point speech again. We've been given to understand that there's a sort of commencement theme between what the President is going to be saying at his two commencement addresses and those of other administration -- is West Point part of this service and volunteerism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, people who attend West Point obviously are volunteering to serve their country. And I think Ari laid it out the other day, that Ohio State would focus more on service in other ways, beyond just military service. But certainly tomorrow's remarks will talk about the importance of what these future leaders of our military -- future leaders in the Army are doing to protect Americans and to protect our country, to defend freedom, to extend the peace for generations.
Q: You've outlined some of the steps that you'd like to see Pakistan take, which is crack down on the terrorism, stop the cross-border infiltrations. Then you mentioned that India should reciprocate. How should India reciprocate? That's my first question.
My second question is, has there been any proposal put on the table that U.S. personnel or U.S. officials will be involved in confidence building measures in Pakistan, specifically witnessing the destruction of terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Kashmir? Has there been any discussion of that, that the U.S. would play some sort of role?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might refer that question to the State Department, in terms of matters relating to that. But, again, I don't want to use media channels to discuss high level diplomacy that's going on. These diplomatic channels, this is a -- go back to a sensitive, tense situation, and I think we need to let the diplomacy play out at this point. And discussions happen between those officials.
Q: Okay. What about India's steps, the reciprocal steps? Is that also in there?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I emphasized that both parties need to work to exercise restraint, to help prevent war. And when those cross-border incursions stop, India does need to reciprocate and everybody needs to keep in mind the consequences of actions which we talked about -- which we talked about earlier.
Q: And how --
MR. McCLELLAN: Taking steps to move toward de-escalation, I'm not going to get into specifics here.
Q: Scott, how is the outcome of the Colombian election going to affect American policy in the Andean region?
MR. McCLELLAN: How is it going to affect?
Q: American policy in the Andean region?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that, as you're aware, continues to be an important priority both in terms of assisting Colombia in the -- in combating drug trafficking, as well as doing what we can to help in tracking down terrorists. But I don't have any additional information for you at this point.
Q: The week ahead?
Q: Can I just ask one more the West Point speech? I'm sorry, Mr. Gregory. (Laughter.)
Scott, is the speech coming off the European trip -- I can't speak French. (Laughter.) No, just coming off the Europe trip, is part of the audience the European nations, sort of like his speech in Germany, to the Parliament there, that the U.S. is not the only one that could be a target of a terrorist attack or weapons of mass destruction, European allies? I mean, the timing of the speech, coming right after the Europe trip, how much is that message going to be aimed at --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a commencement address. This was scheduled a while ago. But I don't know if you'd necessarily want to make that connection, per se. I mean, the highest priority for America, and I think for leaders across the world, is to win the war on terrorism, to fight this war, and see it to the end. And it's a difficult struggle ahead. But we will continue to wage this. There's no higher priority than fighting terrorism.
Q: But he uses every speech, obviously, to try to keep that coalition together. So my point is, is the speech going to be, coming after the Europe trip, using that as a mechanism to try and keep the coalition together, too?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he noted the successful trip he just had yesterday in the Cabinet meeting. And, again -- I mean, he's going to continue to speak up about the importance of all of us, across the world, working together to win this war. So that's something that it would constantly, constantly speak to.
Q: That may be the top priority, but right now we're on the verge of a nuclear war. Wouldn't that raise the priority?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a number of important priorities, Helen, when you're President of the United States. Obviously, that situation there is a very high priority, at this point.
Q: The week ahead, please.
MR. McCLELLAN: Week ahead? Okay. Next week -- or, I'm sorry, this afternoon the President and Mrs. Bush will depart for Camp David from the South Lawn. Saturday morning, the President will depart Camp David for New York, where he will make remarks at the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement. I think we tried to arrange a nice early baggage call for everybody and make it convenient for you guys that have just returned from Europe, I think at 3:00 a.m. Don't worry, I have to get up early, too, I'll be with you. From there, the President will return to Camp David for the remainder of the weekend.
Monday morning, the President will depart for Little Rock, Arkansas, where he will participate in a conversation on welfare reform. And then --
Q: From where? Where will he leave from -- from Camp David or from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: He will leave from the White House. He'll be coming back Sunday from Camp David. And the President will then return to Washington, D.C., that afternoon.
Tuesday, the President will visit Fort Meade, Maryland, where he will tour the National Security Agency Headquarters and make remarks to employees. That afternoon, the President will make remarks to welfare-to-work graduates in the East Room.
Then, Wednesday afternoon, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a congressional barbecue on the South Lawn.
MR. McCLELLAN: Wednesday afternoon, that's right.
Q: Are we invited?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me check on that. (Laughter.) These have tended to be closed in the past.
Thursday, the President will make remarks to the National Association of Homebuilders at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Friday morning, the President will meet with the President of the Slovak Republic in the Oval Office. That afternoon, he will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, where he will make remarks to the 14th Annual World of Pork Expo.
From there, the President will depart --
Q: World Port?
MR. McCLELLAN: Pork Expo. (Laughter.) Pork, p-o-r-k.
From there, the President will depart for Camp David, where he will host the President of Egypt. And Saturday morning at Camp David, the President will participate in a press availability with President Mubarak,
and the President will remain at Camp David for the remainder of the weekend.
That is the --
Q: When does Mubarak leave? Will Mubarak leave -- is Mubarak leaving --
MR. McCLELLAN: He leaves Saturday. I think he gets there Friday afternoon or evening, and departs on Saturday; the availability on Saturday.
Q: Saturday morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: Is that a pool availability, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. When it's Camp David, it's usually pool.
All right, thank you very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:19 P.M. EDT
Scott McClellan, Press Briefing by Scott McClellan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272637